Family members of Canadian military veterans whose mental health funding was cut off by the government during the past year will once again be allowed to access these services, Global News has learned.
The decision to reinstate the funding — which can only be approved when a veteran’s psychiatrist believes it will help improve their mental health — comes after the government decided it would no longer pay for these services for some family members due to concerns that the benefit was not being consistently applied in all cases.
But changes to how the policy was applied meant some veterans and their family members who needed these treatments were excluded from receiving the benefit, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) said.
According to VAC, the most recent changes to how the policy is applied means cases of any family member whose funding was declined or whose application is still pending will be reviewed. Those found eligible to receive mental health benefits will be notified.
Anyone who continued to receive treatment and paid for it out of their own pocket will also be reimbursed if found eligible, the government said.
“It was the wrong decision to make in the first place,” said Kim Davis, whose husband Blair Davis was diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression linked to his military service in Bosnia.
VAC cut off Kim’s mental health services in February after four years of treatment.
When Blair called to find out why the treatments were cut off, a department official told him Kim had used up her eligibility and that she should try accessing treatment through his insurance plan or VAC’s assistance line.
But Kim said she needs the therapy sessions to help Blair cope with his PTSD, which includes blackouts, fits of anger and suicidal thoughts.
She’s also Blair’s primary caregiver, which means she spends nearly all of her time making sure he doesn’t spiral out of control and harm himself.
“(His PTSD) is still there and it will probably be there until the day he dies,” she said.
VAC reverses decision
Global News reported in March that VAC changed how it applied its mental health policy, which resulted in some family members, such as Kim, being denied treatment.
At the time, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said the department was conducting a review of the policy with the goal of “maximizing compassion for veterans and their families.”
Based on feedback from veterans and their families, MacAulay instructed VAC to “re-evaluate” its approach to applying the policy to make sure it helps everyone in need.
According to the government, the most recent changes to how the policy is applied, which were disclosed to Global News Friday, are a result of this review process.
“The well-being of our veterans and their families is always the minister’s top priority,” said Cameron McNeill, a spokesperson for MacAulay’s office.
“As he stated at his recent (committee) appearance, he directed the department to interpret the policy as flexibly as possible, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that care and compassion are the central focus of decision-making when this policy is applied.
“We understand the vital role that families play in supporting our veterans and we will continue to look at ways to support them.”
Under existing rules, veterans’ family members who receive approval from a psychiatrist are eligible for up to 25 therapy sessions a year.
While these benefits are intended for “short term” use only, VAC said the recent changes mean applications for funding will be approved so long as it is in the veteran’s best interest.
In all cases, the purpose of the therapy sessions must be the improved health of the veteran, and cannot be focussed on treating any mental health conditions the family member may be experiencing, even if those issues are related to the veteran’s mental well-being.